A very warm welcome to Edinburgh last week – or at least the simulacrum of one. The crackling log fire in my hotel room turned out on closer inspection merely to be some kind of video-loop with sound effects on the television screen. It proved extremely difficult to turn it off – it just kept resuscitating itself again and again. Isn’t it astonishing how irritating the smaller things in life can be?
Elsewhere there was a table neatly laid out with kettle, coffee, milk, etc. All very nice, very welcoming – except for just one thing. Nowhere to plug the kettle in. The nearest socket, the only socket, was on the other side of the room, half-way up the wall, above the bed. To make a cup of coffee – and by now I was really irritated and doubly determined – I had to move all the furniture around. And as for bedside lights – they were as resistant to being turned off as the bloody log fire. The only way to get rid of either of them was to take the key-card out of its socket to turn off the electricity altogether and then rummage around in complete darkness.
Enough of this – I hadn’t come north as a hotel critic – I was here for books and booksellers – and the 2016 Edinburgh Book Fair. The first person I ran into on Friday was Alan Grant (Grant & Shaw). Good to see him looking chipper and cheerful – his books as immaculate as ever. And then there was ‘retired’ ABA Secretary John Critchley in charge of proceedings (Sandy turned up later), a genial, courteous and unflappable presence, as ever. Simon Beattie in the corner, with his eclectic mix of books we never knew we wanted. Immediately noticeable that the Scottish rare book librarians were out in force and finding good things for their various collections – also noticeable the preponderance of Scottish material on display. Support for the fair from the very top end of the trade – Ian Smith in charge of the Peter Harrington stand, Donovan Rees from Bernard Quaritch on the other side of the room. A few words with Brian Lake and Carol Murphy from Jarndyce.
A bit of a theme beginning to develop with just about everyone asking me how I was getting on without my lovely Dutch intern (for those of you not up to date on this, since just before Christmas Pauline has been ensconced in a full-time job at Peter Harrington). Was I managing to cope? Was I managing to get by? Was I alright? Was I selling any books at all without her? That sort of thing. I was touched by all the concern, even if a little uncomfortable with the tone and tenor, not to say downright cheek, of the underlying assumptions. I ran into Pauline the other night at the monthly seminar on book-collecting at Senate House – a thoroughly delightful talk from Julian Nangle on his peripatetic book-selling career, by the bye – she shares everyone’s concerns (obviously), but is very happy in her new berth and enjoying it all immensely – lovely people, lovely books – you can find her in Dover Street.
Very good to see Jonathan Kearns exhibiting at his first Edinburgh fair, with his egregiously esoteric stock. It may not be for everyone, but if you are interested in the weirder and wilder fringes of fiction and culture – he is the man for you. Bought a few books (seemingly as always) from Anthony Smithson (Keel Row Bookshop). Heard some interesting ideas from Derek Walker (McNaughtan’s Bookshop) on building up the fair next year. A few words with Ian Marr, who brings his books all the way up from Cornwall every year. Handed out a few copies of the draft revision of the ABA Code in the hope of getting some feedback from members from all different parts of the trade.
Always a delight to see David Steedman (Robert D. Steedman) – another bookseller whose books are always immaculate. Found something to buy from Cooper Hay (again as almost always). A word with Richard V. Wells from Teignmouth, who was clearly having a very good fair – as were others (sales were apparently up something like 20% on last year). All was business and bustle downstairs in the PBFA room – a couple more books bought there. Back again on Saturday morning for another look round and one final purchase (how had I missed this on Friday?) – short stroll down to the station and on the train home. Mission accomplished – some excellent fresh stock, old friendships renewed, new ones nurtured.